“Don’t tell your dad I let you have ice cream kiddo.  He’ll never let me hear the end of it.”  Lance pointed his spoon at Kyle before he took a bite.  Together, they’d almost finished the two pints of vanilla ice cream Lance had ordered, and the toppings were all over the table.

            “Kay.”  Kyle laughed and stuck his caramel-covered spoon into the sprinkles.

            “You like that huh?”

            “Yeah.  Have some?” 

            “No, I don’t want any sprinkles, I’m cool.”  Lance laughed and shook his head; this was the first time he’d spent any real time with Kyle alone, and the kid was pretty cool.

            “Cool.”  Kyle nodded as the half-melted ice cream slipped off his spoon and onto his shirt.

            Lance winced as he watched Kyle dig in for more, if he had thought it through he would have put an old t-shirt on Kyle to avoid the mess.  “Your shirt is going to be ruined.”

            “Uh oh.”

            “That’s okay, you’ve got lots of shirts.”

            “An shoe.”

            “Yeah, you’ve got lots of shoes too.”

            “And daddy?”

            “Daddy has a lot of shoes?”

            “Yeah.”  Kyle nodded.

            “Yeah well your dad’s high maintenance.”  Lance smiled and set his empty bowl to the side to assess the damage.  “Dude, we need to be hosed off or something.”

            “A bass?”

            “A what?”

            “Ina tub?”

            “Oh, no we’re not taking a bath.  I uh… I’m not good at that kind of thing.”  Lance ran his hands through his hair and thought for a minute.   “I have an idea.”  He said as he pulled his shirt over his head, trying not to get melted ice cream in his hair.  “Let’s just ditch the shirts, we’ll deal with the clothes later.”  He reached for Kyle’s shirt and tugged at it to pull it over his head. 

            “I suck.”  Kyle said as Lance pulled at the shirt.

            “You what?”  Lance laughed and freed Kyle’s arms.

            “I suck.”

            “You suck?”  Lance smiled and shook his head, that couldn’t be what Kyle meant.  “Dammit, you’re head is stuck.”  He continued to pull, practically lifting Kyle off the chair.

            “Yeah.”

            “Oh you’re stuck!”  He chuckled and pulled the shirt down to look at the neck hole.  “How the heck does this work?”

            “Doe no.”  Kyle sighed deeply and creased his brow with toddler worry.  “Can fix?”

            “There must be a trap door or something.”  Lance mumbled under his breath as he felt around the neck.  Melted ice cream, sprinkles and caramel smeared onto his jeans but he didn't seem to notice.

            “I suck.”

            “I know pal.  I’m workin on it.”  Lance smiled and shook his head at how silly he must look.  “Ah ha, snaps.”  He quickly released the tiny silver snaps at the back of Kyle’s shirt and pulled him free.  “There you go.”

            “No shirt?”

            “Nope.  We don’t need shirts.”

            “And pant?”

            “No, we’ve gotta keep the pants on.”  Lance lifted Kyle off the chair and wandered around the room wondering what they could do next.  “So uh… what now?”

            “Waas teebee?”

            Lance made a face at the child,  “TV?  No way Jose.  Let’s see if you’ve got a book in here or something.”

            “I see teebee?”

            “No TV tonight kiddo.”  Lance shook his head and set Kyle on the floor as he dug through the backpack.  “Ah ha, here’s a book.  Does your daddy read this to you?”

            “Jessi.”

            “Jessica does?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Do you want me to read it to you?”

            “Kay.”  Kyle shrugged his bony shoulders and walked over to the windows where he played with the curtains.

            “Here, let’s sit by the window so we can see the pictures real well, how’s that?”  He sat on the floor by the sliding glass door and leaned back against the wall.

            “I sit?”

            “Yeah, you can sit right here.”  Lance patted his leg for Kyle to sit in his lap.

            “An read?”  Kyle sat square in the middle of Lance’s lap with his back pressed against Lance’s chest.

            “Yep, I’ll read it for you and you can look at the pictures, okay?”

            “Kay.”  Kyle sighed and bounced his hands off Lance’s knees.

            “Cool, I can do this…”  Lance said softly as he flipped the book open and smiled at the bright Dr. Seuss pictures,  “Good choice.”

            “I see a hat.”

            “A bunch of hats.”  He nodded.  Kyle settled into his lap as Lance read the well known story of green eggs and ham, while chatting it up between pages about all the silly things in the pictures.

 

            “…and I would eat them in a boat and with a goat, in the rain and on a train because I do like green eggs and ham.  I really like them, Sam I am.”   Lance read softly as Kyle rested his head against Lance’s bicep.  He closed the book and smiled down at Kyle,  “Wasn’t that a cool story?”

            “Yeah.”  Kyle smiled and yawned.  “Again?”

            “Nah, we don’t want to read that one again, how about if we go outside and look at the lights?  I’ll bet we can see some airplanes.”  Lance looked excited as he moved Kyle off his lap to stand up, then lifted him onto his hip.  “Do you like airplanes?”

            “Yeah.”  Kyle nodded.

            “Remember when we went on that airplane and we got to see the pilot’s seat?”

            “Yeah, and no touch.”

            “Oh no, we’re not allowed to touch it.”

            “For only one.”

            “That’s right, it’s only for the pilot.”  Lance nodded and slid the thick glass door open.  They stepped out into the warm California evening air and looked up into the sky.  “Hey look over there, you can see the ocean.  What lives in the ocean?”

            “Fish.”

            “And what else?”

            “Bo?”

            “Yeah, boats are in the ocean.”  Lance smiled and looked down at the toddler in his arms.  A yellow sprinkle clung to Kyle’s cheek and Lance reached up to brush it off, resisting the temptation to lick his thumb and clean the area like his mother used to do to him.

            “No mays.”

            Lance laughed and shook his head,  “Nope, no mermaids.”

            “And dog?”

            “Hrmm… yeah some dogs like to go in the ocean.”  He smiled.  “Oh!  Check it out, right over there, there’s a plane.”  Lance pointed to the south where he could see a plane in the distance blinking across the sky.

            “Is small?”

            “It just looks small because we’re so far away.  If we were closer it would be huge.”

            “How?”

            “How huge?”  Lance raised his eyebrows;  “It would be bigger than this room and bigger than our stage!”

            “Wow!”  Kyle looked completely amazed and Lance beamed.

            “Pretty cool huh?”  Lance would never get tired of seeing that look of wonder on a child’s face.  At that moment he realized that no matter what was going on, JC was the luckiest man alive. 

            “Is big.”

            “Yep, that’s big.”  Lance nodded as the door to the hotel room behind them opened.  “Uh oh, who’s here?”

            “Jessi an Mimi.”  Kyle waved over Lance’s bare shoulder as the girls walked into the room.

            “Hey there gorgeous, are you bird watching?”  Jessica asked with a smile as they walked in.

            “No actually we’re looking at airplanes.”  Lance smirked as he turned around.

            “Ha ha.”  Jessica rolled her eyes and extended her hands to Kyle.  “I was talking to this gorgeous young man.”  She scooped him up and covered him with kisses.

            “Ah I see how it is.”  Lance laughed as Amy walked over and kissed him.  “At least someone thinks I’m worthy of a dozen kisses.” 

            “Thanks for watching him Lance.”  Jessica smiled as she set Kyle on the floor and took his hand.  “Do you have Lello?”

            “Nope.”  Lance shook his head.  “You left him with his backpack and that red thing.”

            “That’s Elmo.  All righty then, are you ready to go Kyle?”  Jessica looked down at the little boy.  “Where are your clothes?”

            “Have pant.”  Kyle tugged at his jeans.

            “I see you have your pants, what happened to your shirt?”

            “A messy.”

            “You got messy huh?”  Jessica laughed and looked at Lance who was also only wearing his pants.

            “We had ice cream and probably ruined his dinner.”  He blushed quickly.  “I’ll toss his shirt in with mine for the dirty laundry.”

            “Okay.”  Jessica shook her head and looked at Kyle,  “Are you ready to get the heck outta here?”  She tossed his backpack over her shoulder.

            “Yeah.”  He nodded and waved over his shoulder,  “Bye bye.”

            “Bye Kyle, see you later dude.”  Lance raised his hand in a wave as Jessica pulled the door open.

            “See you guys later.”  Jessica smiled and propped the door with her foot for Kyle to walk out, but instead he stopped and turned around to run over to Lance with his arms outstretched.

            Lance opened his arms and caught him expertly in a big bear hug,  “Aww wow, I get a hug too?”  Lance smiled and glanced up at Jessica with a questioning look.  She just shrugged and quickly looked at Amy who stood there with a pained expression on her face.

            “Have hug.”  Kyle nodded.

            “Well thank you buddy.”  Lance rubbed Kyle’s head quickly, but he didn’t let go.  “I love you kiddo.”

            “Love too.”  Kyle giggled as he stepped back;  “I go.”

            “O-okay Kyle, I’ll see you later kiddo.”  Lance stood up and watched as Kyle trotted past Jessica out into the hallway.  Jessica just looked at Lance and smiled as he exhaled heavily,  “Wow.”

            “He likes you.”  Jessica laughed as Amy put her arm around Lance’s waist.

            “Well I like him too.”  Lance nodded and ran his hand through his hair as Jessica let Kyle pull her into the hall.

            They walked hand in hand to Jessica’s room where she asked,  “Are you hungry?”

            “No.”  Kyle shook his head and threw his stuffed dog at the bed.

            “Well I’m starving.  I’m going to order up some dinner and we’ll chill out for a little bit, okay?  Run out your sugar high before your daddy gets done.”

            “Daddy?”

            “Yeah, he’ll be here in a little bit, when he’s done with his work.”  Jessica nodded and opened her bag with her stash of extra kid clothes.

            “Jussin?”

            “Justin?  I don’t know, I think he’s in his room.”

            “See Laaaance?”

            “Lance wants to see Justin?”  Jessica asked with a look of confusion.

            “No me.”

            “You want to see Justin?”

            “And Laaaance.”  Kyle nodded.

            “You just saw Lance.”  Jessica waved him over to where she stood as she shook out the little t-shirt.

            “Again.”  Kyle sighed and walked over to where Jessica stood and put his arms up.

            “You can see Lance tomorrow, okay?”  Jessica smiled and pulled the clean shirt over his head, then kissed his cheek.

            “Ina party?”  Kyle smiled.

            “Yep, did he tell you about the big party we’re going to have tomorrow?”  Jessica raised her eyebrows then they sat side by side on the floor,  “We’re going to have so much fun, you won’t believe it.”

            “How?”

            “Well we’re going to go see the show and then after that everyone is going to get together and have one huge party.  I mean, everyone.”

            “Daddy?”

            “Heck yeah your daddy will be there, all of the guys will.  And Les and Lonnie and all the security guards and me and Amy and everyone.”

            “And me?”

            “Of course you!”  Jessica laughed.  “We’re going to have the biggest party ever.”

            “Why?”

            “Because it’s the last show, and that is so exciting.”  Jessica reached out and rubbed his head,  “Because after that, then everyone can go home and see their families and their dogs and their homes and all that.”

            “I go?”

            “Yep.”  Jessica nodded, and hoped that Kyle would be able to go to Florida with JC.  Now that Lori was back she didn’t know how all of that would work.  “Okay kiddo, I’m going to order up some grub.  I’ll get you some fries, okay?”

            “Kay.”  Kyle nodded and scooted over by the window.

            Jessica placed their order then got her Memory game out of her bag.  Kyle wasn’t old enough to really play but he had fun flipping the cards over to look for two that matched.  The “played” the game until the food arrived, then ate picnic style on the floor while “Prince of Egypt” played on the TV above them.

            Kyle took a few fries and a bite or two of the chicken fingers that Jessica had ordered for herself, then he asked,  “Go Jussin now?”

            “Hmm?”

            “Go Jussin?”

            “You want to go see Justin?”

            “Yeah.”

            “I don’t know if he’s in his room.”  Jessica shook her head.

            “Caw phone.”  Kyle looked up at her as if to say ‘duh’.

            “Yeah, I can call him I suppose.”  Jessica pushed herself up off the floor and wiped her hands on her jeans.  “We need to get out of here anyway.”  She mumbled under her breath as she called over to Justin’s room.

            “Good great, you’re there.”  She smiled when he answered.

            “I… okay, that’s one way to answer a phone, yeah.”  He said slowly.

            “This is Jessica.” 

            “Oh!”  Justin laughed and sat on the bed causing it to squeak audibly.  “What’s up?”

            “Well… I have Kyle here and he’d like to come over and see you.” 

            “Really?”  Justin sounded surprised.

            “Yeah.”

            “Why?”  He laughed.

            “I don’t know.  He just said ‘go Justin’ so I thought we’d come on down and say hi if you’re not too busy?”  She explained with a smile.

            “I’m never to busy for the little dude.  Cruise on over.” 

            “Cool, I need to clean up our dinner mess, then we’ll come over.”  Jessica smiled at Kyle.  “Thanks.”

            “No problem, I need to clean up a little bit here too.  I’m a mess.”

            Jessica laughed and imagined Justin rushing around his room to do the thirty second clean up.  “All righty Kyle, help me get this stuff cleaned up and we’ll go see Justin.”  She sighed and sat on the floor across from Kyle as she began to pick up the little picture cards.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

            JC walked down the hall looking like something the cat dragged in.  He took a deep breath as he watched the numbers on the doors get higher.  He was almost to Jessica’s room when the cell phone in his pocket began to ring,  “Hello?”  He mumbled.

            “JC?”  Ali asked.  He would never forget her voice.

            “Hey Ali, I can’t talk right now.”  JC coughed into his shoulder and leaned against the wall.  “Can I call you later?”  She was the last person he wanted to deal with at the moment.

            “Well wait!”  She said quickly.  “JC I just wanted to kind of apologize.”

            “For what?  Jumping ship when I needed you here?  Over reacting?  What exactly are you kind of apologizing for?”

            She seemed stunned for a second before she said,  “Well… well we didn’t start dating until Easter weekend a couple years ago, and you said he was conceived on April Fools day right?”

            “Uh huh.”

            “So then you didn’t cheat on me.”

            “Which is what I told you from the start.”  JC pointed out.  “Listen Ali, I really can’t talk right now.  I’ve just spent all day dealing with my PR managers, publicists, lawyers and management team and now I’ve gotta go pick up my son who I haven’t seen since this morning and I need to eat breakfast.”

            “It’s after five.”

            “I know, which means I’m starving.”  JC scowled and knocked on Jessica’s door.  “Thanks for the apology.  I appreciate it.  You’re just a little late with it.  I could have used this understanding four months ago.”  He clicked his phone all the way off and dropped it into his pocket as he heard a pair of tiny feet running for the door.

            “Hang on Kyle wait!”  He heard Jessica say from the other side.  “I need to go out first.”

            “I go?”  Kyle asked.

            JC smiled as he listened to the muffled voices coming through the door,  “Nope, me first.  Hang on.  Come here and hold my hand, we’ll go see Justin.” 

            JC stood back as the door opened and Jessica took a step out then stopped suddenly with a gasp,  “Oh JC… you scared me.”  She laughed and held her hand over her chest.

            “Hi daddy!”  Kyle launched himself against JC’s legs and tried to crawl up his pants.

            “Hey guys.”  JC smiled with tired eyes and looked at Jessica,  “How was the spa?”

            “Fun.”  She nodded.  “You look like you could use a few hours with a masseuse.” 

            “Oh man, I would never get off the table.”  He laughed.  “Where are you guys headed?”

            “We were just going to run down to Justin’s room to see what he was doing.”  Jessica explained.  “I was checking the hall to make sure the security was out, just in case.”

            “Ahh, yeah they’re hanging out up there.”  JC nodded toward the end of the hall where the elevators were.  “Did you eat dinner yet buddy?”

            “Yeah.”

            “What’d you have?”

            “Eat finger?”

            “You ate uh… a finger?”  JC looked at Jessica.

            “Chicken fingers.”  She laughed.  “That’s kind of a hard one to explain to kids.  We shared an order of chicken fingers and fries.”

            “Oh okay.”  JC laughed,  “So do you want to go say hi to Justin real fast before we go to our room?”

            “Kay.”  Kyle nodded.

            “Okay.”  JC smiled and caught Jessica’s eye,  “Thanks Jess.”

            “No problem.”  She reached out to smooth Kyle’s hair down on the side.  “You’ll want to thank Lance also, he watched Kyle while we were at the spa.”

            “Right on, I will.”  JC picked Kyle up into his arms,  “Did you have fun with Lance?”

            “Yeah see pane.”  Kyle pointed toward the roof.

            “They watched airplanes.”  Jessica laughed and leaned against the doorframe.

            “Got it.”  JC stifled a yawn and looked down at Kyle.  “So what else did you and Lance do?”

            “Have eye keem.”

            “Oh really huh?”  JC laughed as he and Kyle walked hand in hand down the hall.  “He gave you ice cream?  That sure was nice.”

            “Speeko.”

            “Speeko?”

            “Ona eye keem.”

            “Sprinkles?”  JC laughed and gave Kyle a surprised look.

            “Yeah.”  Kyle laughed and covered his mouth with his free hand.

            “Get outta here!  He really let you put sprinkles on your ice cream?  Wow… you’re one lucky kid.”

            “Yeah.”  Kyle sighed and ran his hand down the wall.  “See Jussin?”

            Jessica watched from her doorway until they stopped to knock on Justin’s door, then she shut herself in her room and flopped down on the bed.  She took a long hot shower and relaxed in bed with a cheesy romance novel, the day at the spa was just what she needed.

            She read until her eyes drooped and she had to read one paragraph nine times for it to make sense, then she turned off the light to rest up for the next day.  The final show was always a busy and exciting day.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

            Saturday was nuts, from beginning to end.  The day of their last show was always crazy, but this was the first time Jessica was going to be there to experience it first hand.  Breakfast consisted of anything anyone wanted to eat and the whole day was basically left open for everyone to have fun, after all the work was done.

            The stage hands double and triple checked the riggings to make sure the night would go off without a hitch, all of the pyro guys tested their equipment and the microphones were sound checked twice before the guys took the stage for their own sound check that after noon.  Nothing could go wrong that night, no matter what.

            During the sound check JC had Kyle out on the stage to play around and dance, basically to tire him out so that he would take a late nap.  There was a party planned for that night at the hotel and all of the guys had been talking to Kyle about how fun it would be, JC didn’t want him to sleep through the whole thing.

            “Hey buddy, you wanna sing today too?”  Justin got down on his knees to be at Kyle’s level as the toddler walked across the stage.

            “I sing?”  Kyle asked as he hopped over some cords.

            “Sure, what song do you like?”

            “Rocket.”  Kyle squinted up at Justin and smiled as he took the heavy mic.

            “Well sing it into there.”  Justin tapped the mic causing a resounding thud to echo through the venue.

            “No.”  Kyle smiled and handed the microphone back to Justin.  “No you sing.”

            “I’ve been singing all day.”  Justin pouted as he fell on the floor.  “You sing.”

            “No you.”  Kyle laughed and sat on Justin’s stomach.

            “No you.”  Justin groaned as Kyle’s weight smooshed everything in his abdomen toward his lungs.

            “No you.”  Kyle insisted as he patted Justin’s chest.

            “I don’t want to.  You sing.”

            “No Joey.”  Justin jumped up and ran over to Chris,  “And Chris.”

            “Me?  I don’t want to sing either.”

            “Yeah sing.”  Kyle nodded.

            “Make JC sing.”  Chris nodded toward JC who was sitting at the edge of the stage with his feet hanging over.

            “Daddy sing?”  Kyle gave Chris a weird look.

            “Yeah, he can sing.”

            “No.”  Kyle laughed and shook his head, as if Chris’ suggestion was absurd.

            “Hey!  Yeah I can, I sing to you all the time.”  JC said into his mic.  The sound of JC’s voice so loud made Kyle jump, then laugh as he turned around to face JC.

            “Your daddy sings to you?”  Lance laughed into his mic.

            “What does he sing.”  Justin asked from his position flat on the floor.

            “I a teepo.”  Kyle laughed and put his hand on his hip.

            “You what?”  Chris asked.

            “Nothing.”  JC shook his head.  “Shhh Kyle, you’re not supposed to tell anyone.”

            “I a teepo.”  Kyle said again as he leaned sideways.

            “I’m a little tea pot?”  Lance raised his eyebrows as JC’s face turned bright red.

            “Yeah.”  Kyle laughed and slapped his thigh,  “I teepo so oh sow.”

            “Awww, come on JC, sing for us.”  Chris draped his arm over Lance’s shoulders.  “This we’ve got to hear.”

            “Kyle, come here you little goblin.”  JC shook his head and held his hand out.  Kyle took off in a sprint toward JC but as soon as Kyle got within a few feet, JC remembered he was at the very edge of the stage.  His smile fell as he leaned over as far as he could, preparing to go over if he had to, “Kyle stop!”

            “Kyle!”  Joey was closest to Kyle and covered the distance in two broad steps, catching the sleeve of his t-shirt just before he hit JC’s outstretched arm at full speed.  Joey’s fingers closed on the fabric and pulled Kyle back hard enough to land him on his butt, startling the little boy into tears.

            “Is he okay?”  Chris asked as he and Lance ran over.

            Justin pulled himself off the floor and was two steps behind the others,  “What happened?”

            “He’s okay.”  JC tried to catch his breath as his heart pounded in his ears.  “Jesus…”          “Whoa.”  Joey shook his head and pried his fingers loose from Kyle’s shirt.

            “Thanks.”  JC looked up and met Joey’s eyes with an expression of both panic and relief.

            “He was going over man.”  Joey shook his head and looked at the six foot drop to the concrete floor below.

            “I’d say stage time for the two year old is just about over.”  Chris added from the back.

            “Is he hurt?”  Justin asked as Kyle inhaled and let out a howl.

            “No.”  JC shook his head and sprung into action, pulling Kyle onto his lap as he swung his legs around so that he was safely sitting on the stage.  “It’s okay buddy.”  He ran his hand over Kyle’s head.  “You’re okay, that was just kinda scary huh?”

            “Joooooey ow!”  Kyle cried loudly into the mic JC still held in his hand.  JC threw the microphone to Justin and used both arms to hold his son close.

            At the sound of his name Joey blushed and leaned back on his heels,  “I’m sorry Kyle, I didn’t mean to hurt you pal.”

            “Joey didn’t mean to hurt you, he was trying to help you.”

            “No!”  Kyle continued to cry big alligator tears as JC hugged him.  The others watched on with mixed emotions as they saw JC mastering the art of fatherhood.

            “He was trying to keep you from falling down onto the ground.  See down there?  You could have really hurt yourself.”  JC explained as Kyle’s sobs subsided into sniffles and gulps.  “Can you thank Joey for catching you?”

            “No.”  Kyle’s bottom lip protruded in a pout.

            “Then can you give him a hug so he doesn’t think you’re mad at him?”

            “Not mad.”  Kyle shook his head.  “I owie my butt.”

            “Please go give Joey a hug and say thank you.  He stopped you from getting hurt very badly.”  JC said, leaving no room for argument.  Kyle slowly stood up and wrapped his arms around Joey’s neck as the older man kneeled beside JC.

            “I owie.”  Kyle sniffed.

            “I’m sorry I knocked you on your butt.”  Joey placed his large hand on the back of Kyle’s head and accepted the hug as a ‘thank you’.

            “Yep, the sound check is over.”  Chris nodded as he tossed his mic in the air and caught it.  “Come on Kyle buddy, I’ve got some new video games and stuff to play with.  Wanna come see ‘em?”

            “No.”  Kyle sniffed.

            “Not now Chris.”

            “Yeah come on.  He’s fine, he’s just shook up.”  Chris walked over to where Kyle and JC were sitting and leaned down to wipe Kyle’s cheeks,  “So come on dude, I’ve got those animal cookie things and a new Scooby Doo game.  We’re set.” 

            “My butt?”  Kyle whined as he sat up in JC’s lap.

            “Nah, you’re butt’s fine.  Just a little bump man, you’re cool.”  Chris shrugged and nodded toward the side stage.  He looked at JC and said,  “If you don’t make a big deal about it, he’ll be fine.”

            “He almost – “  JC started.

            “Yeah ‘almost’, but he didn’t.”  Chris smiled.  “Because Joey rocks.  Come on little dude, last chance.”

            “I pay?”

            “Heck yeah you can play.”  Chris scooped him out of JC’s lap, but JC’s hands followed his up, to make sure Chris didn’t drop him.

            “Just be… be careful.”  JC jumped up off the floor and wiped his hands on his pants.  “For real.”

            “I’ll be careful, right Kyle?”  Chris asked as he bounced Kyle up onto his hip.

            “Kick butt.”

            “Yep, we’re gonna kick butt with a video game, but not really.”

            “Kick bad.”  Kyle nodded and wiped at his nose with his arm.

            “You got that right.”  Chris nodded.  “We’ll be in the playroom, get this place cleaned up a little or something, huh?”  He kicked a small coil of cords to the side and laughed as he trotted off the stage with Kyle.

            “Well now that’s one hell of a way to start off the last show festivities huh?”  Joey laughed nervously as he looked around the stage.

            “So we’re done here?”  JC shouted to no one in particular.

            “You’re done.”  Their stage manager shouted back from wherever he was hiding. 

            “Rad.”  Justin slapped JC on the back as they walked off the stage,  “We’re gonna party tonight, right C?”

            “Yep.”

            “You’re bringing the kid?”

            “Of course.  Lance got him all hyped up for a party, how could I not take him?”  JC smiled as Lance walked by.

            “Yeah but he’s gonna beat out before it even starts.”  Justin frowned.

            “Nah, you’d be surprised.”  JC shook his head.  “Don’t’ sweat it, you’ll have all the time in the world to party.  I’m gonna grab something to drink, I’ll catch up with you guys before the meet and greet.”

            “Yipee.”  Joey rolled his eyes and followed Justin down the hall to the playroom where they planned on spending their little bit of free time.

 

            Jessica arrived at the venue an hour before she had to be there, and wandered around to get one last look at everything before it was torn down.  She ran into Amy in the hall as she was on her way from the cafeteria with a box of cracker jacks in her hand,  “Hey you.”  Jessica smiled.

            “Hey!  Where are you headed?”

            “No where.”  Jessica shrugged and offered Amy the box.

            Amy shook some of the cracker jacks into her hand and said,  “Then come with me.  I’m bored.”

            “Where’s your main squeeze?”  Jessica laughed.

            “In the dressing room.  Where’s yours?”

            “Kyle?”  Jessica asked.

            “Is there someone else I should know about?”  Amy raised her eyebrow at Jessica as she pushed the dressing room door open.

            “Nope.”  Jessica stepped into the room and fell onto the empty couch.  “I don’t know where Kyle is, JC has him.”

            “That’s a good thing, right?”

            “Oh yeah, JC’s really great with him.”  Jessica nodded as Amy sat beside her.

            The door opened quickly and Lance rushed in,  “There you are.”  He sighed and collapsed on the far end of the couch and dropped his legs over Amy’s lap.

            “Here I am.”  She smiled.  “How’d it go, I didn’t think you guys would be done yet.”  Amy checked her watch.

            “We had a small mishap so the check ended a little early.  No biggie.”  Lance yawned and rested his head on the back of the couch.

            “What happened?”  Amy asked.

            “Kyle came about three inches from giving us all a collective heart attack.”  Lance shook his head as he leaned forward to kiss Amy quickly before laying back down.

            “Why?  What happened?”  Jessica asked with a look of concern.

            “JC was sitting at the edge of the stage during the sound check and Kyle was goofing with the rest of us, you know.  He was sitting on Justin’s stomach or whatever well he took off running for JC and came about an inch from launching himself off the end of the stage.”  Lance shook his head.

            Jessica’s heart skipped a beat,  “Is he okay?”

            “Yeah, yeah he’s cool.  Joey caught his sleeve and pulled him onto his butt.  I think it scared him more than anything, poor kid.”

            “I’ll bet.”  Jessica put her hand over her heart.

            “But let me tell you, as soon as JC said ‘Kyle stop!’ all of us just kind of froze for a second.  It was weird… Joey was cool though, like Superman.”  Lance smiled and patted Amy’s leg.  “I swear we all sprouted a dozen gray hairs.”

            “Where is he now?”

            “JC?”  Lance asked.

            “Kyle.”  Jessica shook her head as she stood up.

            “He and Chris went to play video games, you might try the game room.”  Lance shrugged.

            “When is your meet and greet?”

            “In…”  He checked his watch.  “Twenty minutes.”

            “Okay, thanks.”  She smiled.  “I’ll catch you later Amy.”  Jessica tucked her hands in her pockets and set off to find Kyle and JC, just to make sure everyone was okay.

 

            Jessica wandered around backstage but could not find them in the game room, or anywhere else for that matter.  She sighed and went back to the dressing room to wait, they’d eventually show up there if Jessica was going to watch Kyle while they did their meet and greet.  She entertained herself by listening to Joey and Chris argue over who stole whose shirt and finally passed judgment as the authority on their clothes,  “That’s Joey’s shirt originally.”  She said as they stood ten feet away tossing it at each other.  “Hey, I thought you had Kyle?”

            “JC took him.”  Chris shrugged as he grabbed the shirt from Joey.

            “Oh!  See?  Dude, leave my clothes alone.”   Joey snatched the shirt back and gave Chris the finger.

            “Then how come it’s been in my rack for a month?  Man, I’ve worn it like a dozen times and now you want it?”  Chris shook his head.

            Joey held the shirt to his nose,  “Jesus, you could wash it every now and then.”  He wadded the shirt up and tossed it over the racks to Chris, who smiled triumphantly and hung it back on his rack.  Jessica laughed and shook her head as the door behind her opened and Kyle rode in on JC’s shoulders.

            “Jessi!”  he screeched from his high perch.

            “Wow!  Look at you!”  She laughed and reached up to high five him.

            “Wanna give me a hand here?”  JC leaned over slightly so that Jessica could lift him off of his shoulders.

            “Hey there tough guy, how’s it going?”

            “I good.”

            “Right on.”  She laughed and bounced him on her hip.  “I heard you had a little scare today?”  She said to JC.

            “Oh shit yeah.”  He took a deep breath and became serious.  “I swear I almost had a coronary or something.”  JC ran his hand over his face then straightened his shirt,  “Yeah, no more sound checks for the little dude.”

            “I guess it’s a good thing this is your last show huh?”  Jessica smiled and made a face at Kyle who was getting antsy in her arms.

            “Yeah, until our European leg.”  JC sighed.  “Hopefully by then he’ll know not to go anywhere near the edge.”

            “That’s something you can work on.” 

            “You can say that again.”  JC laughed and put his hands on his hips.  “Are these clowns ready to go?  We’ve got a crowd of kids out there waiting for us.”  He said loud enough for everyone to hear.

            “Did you peek?”  Joey asked as he came out from the racks in a completely different shirt than he had on earlier.

            “Yep.”  JC nodded.  “They’ve gone all out for the last one.  I’d be willing to bet this one goes over by thirty minutes, at least.”

            “Oh.  Yay.”  Justin said sarcastically as he pulled Chris out into the hall.  “Come on gramps, we can keep each other awake.”

            “But I don’t wanna go.”  Chris’ whining followed them down the hall toward the green room where the fans were waiting.

            “Two down…”  JC looked around the dressing area,  “Joe?  Where’s Lance?”

            “He’s meeting us there, he was getting something to eat with Amy.”  Joey explained.

            “He’d better be there.”

            “When has Lance ever flaked?”  Joey asked as he reached up and stretched out the neck of his t-shirt.

            “True.”  JC laughed and looked over at Jessica and Kyle,  “I’ll see you in about an hour.”  JC rubbed Kyle’s head and stuck out his tongue.  “Play nice.”

            “I pay.”  Kyle laughed.  “You pay now?”

            “Yeah… well kinda.”  JC shook his head and smiled,  “Have fun.”  He said to Jessica as he followed Joey out the door.

            “We will.”  She smiled and set Kyle on the floor as the door shut.  “They’re gone!”  Jessica smiled slyly at Kyle.

            “Go bye.”  Kyle nodded.

            “Yep, you know what that means?”

            “Fine dago.”  He made his scary face and clawed at the air.

            “Yep, it’s time to find some dragons.”  Jessica dropped to her knees and laughed as Kyle ran toward the racks of clothing and came back with a t-shirt in his hand.

            “Ana hat.”  He put it on his head and Jessica tied the arms to make it snug. 

            “Are we ready?”

            “Yeah.”  Kyle laughed and crawled up onto the couch as their game began.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

            Sean stepped into the hall between Joey and JC and placed his hand on JC’s shoulder,  “Hey kid,  I need you to come in here for a minute.”  Sean said as he watched Joey jump up and slap a hanging banner.

            “I’m doing the meet and greet, can I come back after?”  JC pointed down the hall at Joey.

            “Nope, you’re off the hook for that.  This is definitely more important.”  Sean waved him into the little office where another man was sitting at Sean’s desk.  “JC this is George Carreno, I think you’ve met.  Johnny sent him out here to meet with you.”

            “We met the other day… what’s up?”  JC asked with a confused expression.  He slowly shook the older mans hand, but refused the chair when Sean offered it. 

            “This is personal.”  George said seriously as he looked at Sean.

            “It’s okay, he can stay.  What’s going on?”  JC asked as Sean shut the door tightly.  “What’s this about?”  He looked back at George, though in his mind he already knew what the lawyer was going to say.  It didn’t take a genius to know.

            “Lori contacted WEG yesterday.”  Sean said softly.

            “What?!”  JC’s jaw dropped open.  Of course she had, this was the next logical step for her.  But even knowing that, JC could hardly believe it when he heard the words spoken out loud.

            “Um, a Miss Lori Ann Sczlansky has filed a petition to gain sole physical and legal custody of your shared son, Kyle Stephen Sczlansky.”  George read off the papers before he handed them to JC.

            “I… she… she’s taking me to court?”  JC’s face flushed with anger.  “She can’t be serious.”  He glanced at his lawyer with a look of desperation, then back at Sean.

            “She’s serious.”  George nodded.

            “No fuckin way.  She’s going to try to take me to court for custody after she abandoned him?”  JC would have laughed at the thought if he weren’t seething.

            “Her argument is that with your lifestyle, life on the road isn’t good for Kyle.”

            “She said herself she lived on the road since her mom kicked her out when she was pregnant!  I’ve at least got a warm bed for him and food every night.  That’s a hell of a lot more stable than bouncing from one friends house to another.”   JC shook his head and threw the paper on the desk as his stomach wound itself in knots.  “Besides, we’ll be done with the tour in four hours so as of Monday he’ll be at my house with his own room and everything he could want.”

            “She’s got herself an apartment now with a friend of hers.”  George explained as he picked up the small packet of paper.

            “Who cares?  She left him in the hotel lobby with a stranger, doesn’t that count for anything?”  JC tried to keep his voice from shaking as his eyes darted from Sean to George.  He hoped beyond hope that one of them would say this was all a joke, that Lori hadn’t contacted anyone at all, that she had once again disappeared.

            “JC… don’t get so upset yet.  I don’t think she’ll have much of a case.  At best she might get shared custody.”

            “Absolutely not.”  JC shook his head.  “No.  George… just… no.  If she wants to go for full custody then that’s what I want.”

            “I know you don’t want shared custody, but JC that might be the – “  George started while Sean kept quiet on the other end of the desk.

            “No.”  He shook his head.  “I don’t care.  I’m not having Kyle bounce back and forth from my house to hers every month or whatever.  He’s just a baby practically, that’ll totally mess with his head.  He’s had a hard enough time don’t you think?”  His hands moved with a life of their own as he spoke.

            “With kids this young they’ll usually have one parent keep him during the week and the other on the weekend.”

            “I live in Florida, she lives here… how would that work?”

            “You could move out here.”

            “Right.”  He rolled his eyes.  “She could just as easily move out there.”  JC held George’s look,  “I’m not budging on this George.”

            “If you go in there demanding everything you could walk out with nothing.”  George explained softly.

            “I can’t settle for less though.  I won’t.  He’s my son and I won’t have him bounced around like that.”

            “He’s her son too.”

            “Who she abandoned.”  JC waved his arms for emphasis in case his tone didn’t reflect it well enough.

            “That certainly won’t help her case at all.”

            “That should blow her case out of the fuckin water.”  JC scowled.

            “Unfortunately that’s not how it works JC.”  George shook his head.  “I’m going to look over the paperwork that’s been sent and contact her lawyer to find out what the deal is.  We have a court date for two weeks from Thursday.  In the meantime go along with any scheduled visits as usual.”

            “She doesn’t have any scheduled visits.  I haven’t heard from her since she came to see him in LA.”  JC shook is head.

            “You’ve had no contact with her at all?”  George asked.

            “Nope.”  JC sighed and pressed his hands against his eyes,  “I called her the other day but she wasn’t home.”

            “Did you leave a message?”

            “I don’t know.  Kind of.  Whoever answered the phone didn’t let me leave my name or number.”  He shrugged.  “So no, I guess she didn’t know I called.”

“Well from now on, you don’t talk to her.  All contact will go through the lawyers; if she wants to play that game we can do that.”

            “I have to let her see Kyle still?”

            “You don’t have to, but I’m trying to keep this out of court as much as possible.  If you start denying her visitation this could get uglier.”

            “Yeah.”  JC nodded.  “But what if she tries to take him.  I mean, it’s obvious she wants him.”

            “The visits will be in either my LA office, Sean’s office or your hotel room.  Either way Kyle’s private security guard will be present at all times.”

            “He doesn’t have one.”  JC ran his shaking hands through his hair as he realized that his nightmare was only just beginning.

            “He does now.”  Sean nodded.  “I’m calling Frank in, I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

            “So I have to stay here in San Diego?”  JC asked.

            “Los Angeles actually.”  George nodded.  “The court dates are scheduled for up there since that is where she lives, and that is where Kyle was abandoned.  That’s also where the suit was filed so… so that’s where we’re going to be.”

            “Okay.”  JC sighed.  “Can I stay down here until our court date though?  San Diego I mean.  Media wise this place is more calm than LA.”  His eyes darted from Sean to George.

            “Sure, you can stay here.  It’s not an unreasonable distance to ask her to drive for visits.”  George nodded and glanced at the papers in front of him.  JC secretly hoped she wouldn’t want to make that drive any more than she had to.

            “Okay.”  JC nodded,  “What a way to start my break huh?”  He asked Sean.

            “I’m sorry about this, kid.”  Sean frowned.

            “Don’t be.  I brought this on myself right?”  JC cleared his throat.  “I mean, he’s my son… I’ve got to take this responsibility and fight for what I think is right.”  The bite in his voice was determination to hide his fear.

            “Right.”  Sean said with a proud smile.  “I’m just sorry this has gotten so far out of hand.”

            “Me too.”  JC said softly as he stood up and reached for the door.  “Are we done?”

            George straightened the stack of papers in his hands, then handed JC his copy,  “Yes.”

            “I’ll be in the dressing room.”  JC folded the papers into thirds and stuck it in his back pocket.

            “We’re going to want to get together as soon as possible to talk about our approach JC.”  George said as JC stepped into the hall.

            “Yeah.”  JC mumbled as the door swung shut behind him.  He kept his eyes on the concrete floor in front of him as he walked down the hall to the dressing room.  Before he could put his hand on the door, he heard Kyle screeching and laughing inside, followed by a loud growl from Jessica and a loud thud of something solid hitting the floor.

            “Oh no!”  Jessica laughed.

            “Uh oh.”  Kyle laughed and JC heard his tiny feet run across the floor.

            “That’s okay, we just won’t tell Joey.”  Jessica laughed,  “Come on, let’s go before the dragons comes back!”

            JC slowly pushed the door open and caught Jessica on her hands and knees chasing Kyle who had one of Justin’s old t-shirts tied around his head,  “Hey guys, what are you doing?”  He smiled as he leaned against the doorframe.

            “Oh!  Hey… uh… hi.”  Jessica stood up and wiped her hands on her pants,  “We’re um, in the jungle looking for dragons.”

            “Dragons in the jungle?  That sounds like fun.”

            “I thought you had a meet and greet.”  She blushed and straightened her hair.

            “I did.”  JC nodded.  “But I’m off the hook.”

            “How’d you swing that?”  Jessica laughed as Kyle pretended to be a dragon by climbing up into the recliner chair.

            “Lori is suing me for custody.”  JC bit his lip as his left eye twitched slightly.  Saying the words himself, he made it real.

            “She what?”  Jessica’s voice went up an octave unexpectedly.

            “Yeah.  She uh, we got the papers or well, WEG got the papers yesterday I guess.”  JC nodded and smiled at Kyle,  “Be careful there buddy, sit down so you don’t fall.” 

            “Shared custody or…?”  Jessica asked as JC ducked around the clothing racks to his own roll around closet.

            “Oh no.”  JC shook his head as he emerged a minute later.  “No no no.  She’s going all out this time.  She’s asking for full legal and physical custody.”  His voice dripped with sarcasm and Jessica could tell he was using all of his self-control to not hit something.

            “W-what does that mean?”

            “Sole physical custody means that Kyle would live with her full time and I’d get specific visitation rights.  Sole legal custody means that she’d be making all the legal decisions regarding his health care, schooling, residency… things like that.”

            “Jesus.”  Jessica’s eyes widened.  “So basically she wants Kyle all to herself with you maybe getting to see him every now and then?”

            “If she gets that I can take her to court to get set visitation rights.”  JC sighed.

            “Shit.”  She said under her breath.

            “Yeah.  Lovely huh?”

            “What are you going to do?”

            “Fight back.”  JC shrugged.  “What else can I do?”

            “You’re going to court?”  She gave him a worried look.  Courtrooms and celebrities were not a good match, it would only amplify the publicity and media frenzy even more.

            “I have to.”  JC sighed and walked over to where Kyle was climbing over the back of the chair.  “Come on dude.  Hop down.”  He grabbed Kyle’s wrists and playfully lifted him up and over the back to place him on the floor. 

            “Have dago.”

            “Dragons huh?”  JC smiled and looked around.  “We’d better be careful huh?”

            “Yeah.”  Kyle laughed. 

            “What’s on your head?”

            “Hat.”

            “A hat?”  JC laughed lightly.  “That’s a cool hat.”

            “Yeah.”  Kyle placed his hands on his head and looked up at Jessica,  “Go bus now?”

            “I told him that when you came back we’d head out to the bus.”

            “Oh, well no you don’t have to go now.”  JC shook his head.  “I’ve got a little more time now, how about we go find some dragons?”  He sat in the chair and pulled Kyle into his lap.

            “If you need to make some calls or whatever… I can take him.”  Jessica said softly.

            “It’s too late to call my parents in Florida.  They’re the only ones I can think of that I would want to call.”  He made up the excuse, it would never be too late to call his parents… he just didn’t want to spend two hours on the phone re-living the last few months.

            “Sean knows?”

            “Yeah.  Sean and my lawyers know.  I’ll tell the guys when they get done… or maybe after the show, I don’t know.”

            “I’m sorry JC.”  Jessica said softly after a moments pause.

            “Nah, don’t be.”  JC shook his head as he tried to smile.  His stomach was in knots and he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to be feeling.  He was nervous but he tried to remain confident as every indiscretion, every wild party and every personality flaw stared back at him.

            Jessica ducked out the door as JC and Kyle sat on the couch together, she knew he had a lot on his mind and she wasn’t sure if there was anything she could do to help.  Les came to find her before the show started so that she could watch Kyle in the game room.  But her mind wandered all night, JC couldn’t lose Kyle now… none of them could.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

            The show ended after two encores and a five minute standing ovation, but any excitement that JC should have felt after a long tour and a job well done, was lost as his mind wandered to the news he had received earlier that night.  He told the others as they got ready to leave and they all reacted just as JC might have predicted.  Justin got quiet and involved in meticulously tying and re-tying his shoes, Joey said a few choice swear words and made up a  few of his own, Lance patted JC on the back and reassured him that they’d be beside him the whole time.  Chris on the other hand tried as hard as he could to hide his true feelings as he offered to hang around in California, but JC heard him slam his fist into one of the transport cases at the back of the room as he stomped off.

            “Jace?”  Lance asked as he waved his hand in front of JC’s eyes.  “Are you here?”

            “What?  Yeah.  What?”  JC asked as he looked up.  He had been lost in thought long enough for the room to empty completely.

            “You coming?”

            “Oh, yeah.”  JC snapped back to reality,  “Where’s Kyle?”

            “Jessica has him.  They’re already on the bus.”  Lance nodded toward the exit as he squeezed Amy’s hand.  “She’s on our bus.”

            “Okay.”  JC nodded and followed them expressionlessly out to the bus.

            “Hey…”  Lance fell into step beside JC.  “Listen, we’re heading back home on Monday, but I can come on back out here in a week if you want.  That wasn’t bullshit back there.”

            “No, I know.”  JC forced a smile.  “I’ll be alright.”

            “I know you’ll be alright.”  Lance nodded and smiled sideways at JC.  “I’m saying if you’d like some company or whatever, I’ll fly out and we can hang out.  I can watch the kid while you go do what you’ve gotta do or whatever.”

            “Thanks.”  JC nodded.  “I’ll keep that in mind.”

            Lance nodded, though he knew JC would never call him and ask him to come out.  He looked over at Amy and nodded, he’d be coming back to California and she knew that.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

            When they got back to the hotel JC tried his best to put the impending court case out of his mind as he and Kyle made the rounds.  They partied until JC could hardly stand, while Kyle slept on JC’s shoulder.  “How can he sleep through this?”  Justin laughed as he rubbed Kyle’s head.

            “He’s zonked.”  JC shrugged.  “We’re gonna head out.”

            “It’s early!”

            “Yeah but this party’s over.”  JC smiled and moved Kyle out from under Justin’s hand.  “We’ll catch up with you tomorrow.  You’re here until Monday right?”

            “Sunday night.”  Justin shook his head.  “Monday morning I’ll be shoveling down grandma’s banana pancakes for breakfast.”

            “Sounds like a plan.”  JC bounced Kyle up a little higher to give his arm a rest.  “Well hey, catch up with me before you leave.”

            “Yeah… yeah of course I will C.”  Justin nodded and turned serious for a minute,  “Things will work out man.  One way or another, things will work out just like God planned.”

            “I know.” JC nodded, truly touched that the guys cared.

            “I’ll come bang on your door tomorrow.”  Justin smiled and gave JC a quick one-armed hug.  “G’night.”

            “See ya.”  JC waved with his free arm and headed for the door.  He touched base with a few other people on his way out, then pulled Frank and Les from their position by the wall to escort him back to his room.

            He let himself into the dark room and held the door open with his foot to let a little of the light from the hall in.  JC spotted the bed about three feet from the wall up ahead so he let the door close behind him then he followed the wall.

            JC’s knee found the bed before his hand did and he almost fell face forward onto the bed with Kyle there to pad his fall.  “Damn!”  He whispered loudly.  JC stood up for a minute to let his eyes adjust, then he lay Kyle on the bed and pulled his little shoes off.  He tossed them towards the open suitcase in the corner, followed by Kyle’s jeans.  “Shirt, diaper and socks, now there’s a hot combo.”  JC laughed softly to himself.

            Kyle took a deep breath and rolled onto his side as he pulled his knees up to his chest.  JC sighed and watched Kyle for a few minutes to make sure he stayed asleep, then he shuffled into the bathroom to change and brush his teeth.  He leaned on the counter with his toothbrush hanging out of his mouth and stared at his eyes.  The lines around them seemed deeper than before, and the bags underneath seemed darker.  He was tired and it showed, physically, mentally and emotionally, he was exhausted.

            For a split second he thought,  “If only Kyle was never dropped off.”  He shook the thought from his head as a feeling of guilt filled his chest.  “Jesus, what’s the matter with you?”  He asked his reflection.  But he knew what he meant.  If Kyle had never been dropped off, he wouldn’t be feeling this way, he’d be out celebrating with the guys, making plans with Ali about how to spend his time off, possibly planning a trip to Greece.

            But since Kyle had been dropped off, he also knew that he wouldn’t trade him for any of that.  He wouldn’t give up one day with Kyle to stay out all night partying.  He wouldn’t want to feel any other way, the worry and the compassion were new to him and he needed those emotions to feel human.  And of course Ali, she had shown her true colors when Kyle showed up, and he wouldn’t trade even a second with Kyle to have her back.

            JC spit into the sink then held his mouth under the running water to rinse before splashing the cool water on his face.  Life would be different without Kyle, that was for sure… but certainly not better.  He walked out to the bedroom in the dark and let his eyes readjust as he ran his fingers along the comforter on the bed to guard his knees from bashing into the side again.

            JC sank into his bed and pulled Kyle closer to him.  They’d gone through a phase where they shared the same bed, then JC had finally gotten over that, but right then all he wanted was to hold Kyle tight and to never let go.

            For two years JC had a son that he knew nothing about, yet in the span of four months he’d bonded with the little boy more than he could have even imagined.  Six months ago children were the very last thing on JC’s mind, he had barely given them a second thought.  But as he lay there with his son’s head inches from his chest, smelling slightly of the maple syrup he’d dribbled on himself that morning… JC couldn’t picture the future without him.  For the first time fear found it’s way into the pit of JC’s stomach as he realized that all of this was real.  It wasn’t just a game.  The possibility of actually losing Kyle was more real than ever.

 

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Copyright 2001, Amy Lynn